Three Blind Mice Accept Understudy
On 24 June 2012, I authored a post entitled “Three Blind Mice Attempt Catholic Ecclesiology.” In this post, I drew from various sources within Catholic teaching and presented the Catholic view that persons who disagree with certain teachings of the Church need not feel that leaving the Church is a necessary consequence of such disagreement. On 27 June 2012, Bonald from The Orthosphere introduced a response to me (“I Disagree: Faithful Dissent”). This further post represents my invitation to Bonald to benefit from how Catholic teaching approaches the realities of which we speak.
Bonald identifies me as “she” even though I, in the post which provokes “I Disagree: Faithful Dissent,” self-identify as “he.” By the end of “Three Blind Mice Accept Understudy,” it will be apparent that this carelessness is representative of a larger sloppiness and inability to engage with the ecclesiological principles and interpretation of Canon Law which I articulate. In responding as I do — by providing occasion for Bonald to self-distance from “I Disagree: Faithful Dissent” — the direction any subsequent conversation can take will be more apparent to me.
Opportunity #1 for Retraction: Bonald, shall I assume you retract your statement that I have “produced an argument … for why Catholics who reject Church teachings aren’t really rejecting Church teaching”?
At no point do I argue that those who reject Church teaching aren’t really rejecting Church teaching. Even as I conclude and make reference to the ‘hierarchy of truths’ spoken of in Paragraph 11 of Unitatis redintegratio, I state that “it is not that some teachings matter and some don’t but rather that the fundamental Christian faith is the God revealed in Jesus Christ. Being a Christian, to use the language of the current Pope, is found in the encounter with Jesus Christ who gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction. It is not found in being right about homosexuality, women’s ordination or artificial methods of regulating birth.”
Nowhere is the suggestion here being made that persons who have come to different conclusions than the Church’s teaching authority have not really come to different conclusions, nor is the suggestion being made that the Church’s teaching authority has come to incorrect conclusions about the matters being disputed by individual persons within the Church, nor is the suggestion being made that being right about such matters is unimportant.
Opportunity #2 for Retraction: Bonald, shall I assume that you retract your statement that I am “upset that conservative Catholics would like the modernist heretics to just apostasize and stop trying to undermine the Church from within”?
The act of heresy is not touched upon in “Three Blind Mice…” Canon 1751 of the Code of Canon Law states that “heresy is the obstinate denial or obstinate doubt after the reception of baptism of some truth which is to be believed by divine and Catholic faith.”
The conclusions persons have drawn about homosexuality, the reservation of priestly orders to men and/or artificial methods of regulating birth, however erroneous they may be, are not themselves conclusions relevant to heresy. Assuming their proper identification among teachings definitively connected with divine revelation, the Ratzinger-Bertone Commentary on Ad Tuendam Fidem states that a person who “denies these truths would be in the position of rejecting a truth of Catholic doctrine and would therefore no longer be in full communion with the Catholic Church.” That is a serious condition to experience (and it assumes proper identification among teachings definitively connected with divine revelation) , but it is not the experience of a heretic.
The New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law, commissioned by the Canon Law Society of America states that “heresy is a denial or doubt of ‘a truth which is to be believed with divine and Catholic faith’ (cf. c. 750, no. 1; but the crime of heresy applies only to this narrow category of truths; it does not extend to the ‘secondary objects of infallibility,’ i.e., those truths necessary to preserve and expound the deposit of faith, c. 750, no. 2); these are central truths like the Incarnation and Resurrection of the Lord, and not at all like the morality of artificial contraception or the discipline of not ordaining women to the priesthood.”
Opportunity #3 for Retraction: Bonald, shall I assume you retract your statement that I accuse those whose comments motivate my response of being “unfaithful to the Magisterium for saying that the Magisterium must be obeyed!”?
At no point do I accuse people of being “unfaithful to the Magisterium for saying that the Magisterium must be obeyed.” In fact, were those comments which motivate my response faithful, themselves, to Catholic teaching, then no conversation would be occurring here.
Bruce Burgess evidences his disregard for (or ignorance of) Catholic teaching when he writes that he “wholeheartedly agree[s]” that “those who disagree with the Church’s teachings should leave the Church” and when he states that if such persons “won’t go voluntarily, they should be expelled,” he advocates something other than Catholic teaching.
Bruce is not accused of being unfaithful to the Magisterium for saying that the Magisterium should be obeyed. He doesn’t say the Magisterium should be obeyed, and more importantly, I don’t “accuse” Bruce of anything. I “question” why he has subordinated the teaching authority of the Church — why he has subordinated representatives such as the German Bishops — to Bill Keller, a former editor of the New York Times. I question how Bruce would evaluate my request (a request I do not make) that he leave the Church because of his disregard of Catholic teaching. Considering his subordination of Catholic teaching to his own particular ideology — manifested in his view that persons who disagree with Catholic teaching be expelled — I wonder whether, given his own disagreement with Catholic teaching, Bruce will lead the exodus.
TCDU had written that “most” of those in disagreement with particular Church teaching had been “excommunicated automatically,” and this subordinates the Church’s Code of Canon Law, promulgated in 1983, to one not a part of the Catholic Church
In the 1983 Code of Canon Law, the types of offenses which incur automatic excommunication are confined to 7 canons (Canons. 1364, 1367, 1370, 1378, 1382, 1388 & 1389) and none apply to those who disagree with what the Church presents as true regarding homosexuality, women’s ordination and artificial methods of regulating birth. Further, Canon 1323 identifies ways in which a person, seemingly having automatically excommunicated him or herself, not necessarily be seen as having done so.
Certainly I believe TCDU is being unfaithful to Catholic teaching. While the intent need not be malicious, how else could someone like TCDU — who subordinates the Code of Canon Law to some secret code motivated by individual ideology — be possibility looked upon by a person such as myself who is preparing for priestly ordination?
As for Squire98, I do not accuse this person of being “unfaithful to the Magisterium for saying that the Magisterium must be obeyed.” Rather, I accuse this person of not being faithful to Catholic teaching. Squire98 speaks of those “RINO Catholics,” a Freudian slip which suggests to me the entity to which Squire98 has subconsciously reduced Catholicism. Further, Squire98 intends to refer to Catholics in Name Only, but what a designation such as this does is reduce Catholicism not simply to its teaching authority, but to the particular positions the teaching authority articulates on matters related to human sexuality. That in Jesus, God has been uniquely revealed, and that in the Church Jesus continues to present himself, is lost in such a reduction.
Opportunity #4 for Retraction: Bonald, shall I assume you retract your statement that “Catholic teaching comes in three levels: (1) what comes straight out of revelation (the Bible); (2) what follows through logical necessity from revelation and (3) other pronouncements”?
Paragraph 2 of Ad Tuendam Fidem, or the CDF’s “Profession of Faith,” describes the first gradation in the following way: “With firm faith, I also believe everything contained in the word of God, whether written or handed down in Tradition, which the Church, either by solemn judgment or by the ordinary and universal magisterium, sets forth to be believed as divinely revealed.” It is not the Bible that the first gradation has as its interest but rather that which the Church, either by solemn judgment or by the ordinary exercise of the universal magisterium sets forth as divinely revealed.
Paragraph 5 of the Ratzinger-Bertone Commentary states that such teachings “require the assent of theological faith by all members of the faithful [and] whoever obstinately places them in doubt or denies them falls under the censure of heresy,” and “without any intention of completeness,” Paragraph 11 identifies teachings contained within the various creeds, various Christological or Marian dogmas, or the institution of the sacraments by Christ and their efficacy with regard to grace as examples of that which is found within the first gradation.
To repeat: Catholics are not Bibliolatrists, and the first gradation has as its interest the extraordinary exercise of the Magisterium (a solemn judgment) and an ordinary exercise of the universal Magisterium, and neither of these are relevant, nor does the Church suggest they are relevant to the issues of homosexuality, reservation of priestly orders to men, and artificial methods of regulating birth.
To characterize the second gradation as referring simply to “what follows through logical necessity from revelation” is mistaken. Of interest is the definitive, and in the Ratzinger-Bertone Commentary, the authors distinguish between teachings which are connected to revelation by logical necessity, and teachings connected by historical necessity. They identify the reservation of priestly orders to men as a doctrine connected to revelation by logical necessity, and in terms of teachings connected by historical necessity, they cite the legitimacy of a Pontiff’s election, the canonization of saints, and the invalidity of Anglican orders.
In Paragraph 23 of the CDF’s “Instruction on the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian,” it is stated that “even if not divinely revealed, [these teachings] are nevertheless strictly and intimately concerned with Revelation [and] these must be firmly accepted and held. The Church’s infallibility extends to teachings which are sometimes called ‘secondary objects of infallibility.’”
It is within the second gradation that many of the teachings which some dispute (artificial methods of regulating birth, the reservation of priestly orders to men…) are interpreted to inhabit. Although others question this interpretation, even when such teachings are considered to be a part of the third gradation, such teachings are still owed a response that is not insignificant.
Opportunity #5 for Retraction: Bonald shall I assume you retract your statement that I am offering a “trick for beginning modernists to push all the stuff that offends against modern androgynist utilitarianism into the third category, and then say that the third category are teachings we must ‘respect’ but not necessarily believe”?
In no way am I offering a “trick for beginning modernists.” Paragraph 25 of Lumen gentium states that “religious submission of will and intellect is to be given in a special way to the authentic Magisterium of the Roman Pontiff even when he is not speaking ex cathedra.” Relevant to the third gradation are those teachings that can be described positively (ordinary or authentic, for example) or negatively (non-definitive, non-infallible or non-irreformable, for example).
At the Second Vatican Council, the Theological Commission replied to an emendation proposed by three bishops who “invoke a particular case, which is at least theoretically possible, in which a certain learned person, in the face of a doctrine that has not been infallibly proposed, cannot, for well-founded reasons, give his internal assent.” The response given is that the approved theological treatises should be consulted.
The Theological Commission is interpreted as showing awareness that the theological manuals in circulation did treat the question. Francis Sullivan, in Creative Fidelity: Weighting and Interpreting Documents of the Magisterium, cites the widely used manual of Ludwig Lercher who, in describing how the Church may be protected from error, describes the guidance that the Holy Spirit offers to the Pope as being the most common way. However, Lercher notes that it “is not unthinkable that the error (on the part of the Church) should be excluded by the Holy Spirit in this way: that the subjects [of the Church] recognize the decree to be erroneous and cease to give their assent to it.”
Mentioned already are the German Bishops who wrote, in the 1960’s, that the Christian person “who believes he has a right to his private opinion, that he already knows what the Church will only come to grasp later, must ask himself in sober self-criticism before God and his conscience, whether he has the necessary depth and breadth of theological expertise to allow his private theory and practice to depart from the present doctrine of the ecclesiastical authorities. The case is in principle admissible. But conceit and presumption will have to answer for their willingness before the judgment seat of God (emphasis added).” Such a person, as I have already noted, may indeed be mistaken, but according to the German Bishops, such a person is not necessarily deluded simply because he or she claims to “know what the Church will only come to grasp later.”
Such an understanding emerges as reconcilable with the “religious submission of will and intellect” that is owed to an authoritative but non-definitive teaching. Avery Dulles notes, in Magisterium: Teacher and Guardian of the Faith, the difficulty in translating “obsequium religiousum” and offers up potentials such as religious submission, religious assent, conditional assent, religious respect, religious adherence, religious allegiance or some other variant, while Francis Sullivan suggests that in the face of such ambiguity “one should not give too strong a meaning to ‘submission’ or too weak a meaning to ‘respect.’”
To Avery Dulles, Paragraph 24 of the Instruction on the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian, which states that “the willingness to submit loyally to the Magisterium on matters per se not irreformable must be the rule,” lends credibility to the notion that in exceptional cases, the requirements of ‘obsequium’ can be fulfilled by what Francis Sullivan calls an “honest and sustained effort to overcome any contrary opinion I might have” even if that effort does not result in the actual assent of the intellect.”
For some, religious submission” is going to be hard work but it is work that cannot be avoided. The point, in light of such hard work, is not to get teachings into the third gradation so that a person no longer has to believe, because the response owed to teachings of the third gradation is “religious submission.”
To conclude, in engaging with the first one hundred and fifty three words of Bonald’s response, nothing of substance remains in the first one hundred and fifty three words of the critique offered in “I Disagree…” Literally almost all that remains are identifications of Bonald’s emotions (“I was eager to see how Wilson would respond…” or “she doesn’t disappoint”). My hope would be that any disappointment Bonald now feels at having literally every sentence engaged with decimated — that any disappointment Bonald now feels at having been exposed as having missed in even identifying accurately one line of reasoning — would motivate in Bonald a new-found appreciation for Catholic theology (a theology with which, before reading this post, he had apparently not been acquainted).
Why does any of this matter? It matters because for persons in the pew, and for all sorts of reasons, faith really can be a struggle for some. There is a difference between the sorts of orthodoxy tests particular ideologies motivate and authentic Christianity. What persons who have different psychological dispositions need to realize is that there are certain types of persons for whom the appropriation of orthodoxy will vary, and as Unitatis redentigratio identifies, there exists a hierarchy of truths. If someone can recognize that in Jesus, God has been uniquely revealed, and that in the Church he continues to present himself, then that’s a touch more important to me than truths connected to these central ones. Those matters which my own upbringing or environment might have helped me to see as a logical or historical result of the kerygma, might, for another person and for all sorts of different reasons, unfold and be appropriated at a different pace. It is my view that in the Church such people should always find a safe place to interact and develop, and that is why I react as strongly as I do when I hear the suggestion that such persons leave.